An awful suspicion lingers that Paul McCartney wouldn’t have tried something like this if it hadn’t been for “Imagine” doing so well the year before. Some partnerships and rivalries create reflexes that run way deeper than conscious decision can account for, and anyhow Lennon was – naturally – on the man’s mind as he put the Tug Of War material together. A piano ballad whose simple truth can bring the world together as one? What could possibly go wrong?
Everything about “Ebony And Ivory” is rotten, from the too-splashy electric piano on. There is good and bad in everyone, and here we get the bad, great shameless lashings of it. Each saving grace you could mention gets the rug pulled out from under it. Stevie Wonder’s singing? Of course it’s fine, but the whole duet has a forced quality – as well it might, since there’s nothing to duet about: Stevie has been drafted in because he’s a passing black legend and the song calls for one to say “me too” to Paul’s homilies. McCartney’s ear for melody? Present and correct, naturally, but keeping it school-assembly simple doesn’t do him favours. “Wonderful Christmastime” was similarly desperate to please, but seems to have become a standard despite this: “Ebony And Ivory” mostly lives on as an easy target – a gold standard for triteness.